In 1839 a slave ship - La Amistad - was overthrown by the slaves on board. The two remaining Spanish crew direct the ship to the American shores where the slaves are given the chance to explain their story.
On one hand the Spanish claim the slaves as their own. They claim they were taken - legally - from Cuba as laid down in a treaty with the United States in the 18th Century. The two Spanish crew are also claiming the slaves as theirs as the spoils of war. Finally, a small time property lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) is given the opportunity to represent the slaves as free men, claimed illegally from the West coast of Africa.
While some of the scenes of the film take place in a foreign language - and not subtitled - the film actually benefits from this. The lack of translation is a perfect representation of the lack of understanding that the slaves must have had.
The solemn ending is a reminder that despite winning the battle, the war is not over.
Congratulations, Mr. Spielberg. With this masterpiece, we're a long way towards winning the war.